Anyone who knows me, even just a little, also knows that I have a passion for Mathematics. Admittedly, it is quite obvious. I study mathematics at university, in my spare time I read mathematics textbooks instead of fiction novels like a sane person, and once asked anything about mathematics, getting me to stop talking can be quite difficult, or so I’m told. You might wonder, then, why such an interest in mathematics? And why would I, or anyone, devote so much time and energy to studying it?

The answer to this question is quite simple: curiosity. I believe this curiosity is something we are all born with, a desire to understand and learn about the world around us, and mathematics is the most fundamental study of nature, underpinning all the natural sciences. But of course, not everyone is a mathematician, and this curiosity tends to fade in people over time. Perhaps a more appropriate question is: how have I maintained my curiosity and interest in mathematics, particularly throughout secondary school and into adult life?

I think the challenge for most people lies in connecting the mathematics taught in classrooms to the real world, which is easier said than done.  The natural world is remarkably complex, and the mathematics required to describe it certainly reflects this. But we have to start somewhere. In primary school, we learn basic arithmetic, geometry, fractions, and decimals. These early skills are perhaps the most useful, they help us with shopping for groceries, budgeting, following recipes and many other important day-to-day tasks. In high school, the story is a little different.

Early in our secondary education we start to learn algebra, incorporating letters into mathematics (why would anyone want to do that?). We are taught to graph straight lines, use trigonometry and Pythagoras’ Theorem to find the angles and sides of triangles, and solve quadratic equations using the quadratic formula. Unlike some of the basic skills developed in younger years, these skills don’t seem to have many directly useful applications in our daily lives. This is because there is so much more to learn before we can meaningfully apply these skills. It wasn’t until my third year of university I learnt to use the quadratic formula to help solve partial differential equations, an area of huge importance to science, engineering, and finance. Pythagoras’ Theorem is perhaps even more ubiquitous, and I often find myself using it subconsciously to solve various complex problems.

The journey of mathematics is long and arduous, but when taken with an open and curious mind, it provides an endless amount of invaluable applications and new avenues to explore and investigate. This has been my approach to mathematics, remaining open to new and challenging concepts and, with enough patience and dedication, reaping the rewards of an enhanced understanding of the world around me.

Liam Barnes
The University of Newcastle

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